Environmental Must-Reads – September 29, 2014


Experts wonder if suing ‘Big Oil’ is really worth it for Louisiana

For all intents and purposes, the oil and gas industry in southeast Louisiana is flying high.

The industry has rebounded since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill and is as good or better than most experts foresaw in their wildest dreams.

But with progress comes occasional possible pitfalls, and the oil and gas industry has one on its hands right now with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit versus 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

West Virginia opens bids on drilling under Ohio River

Facing another tough budget scenario, West Virginia is ready to let companies drill for oil and natural gas deep beneath 14 miles of the Ohio River.

On Friday, state commerce officials opened bids to drill under the northern West Virginia section of the river, which serves as a natural border with Ohio. Officials said other river tracts could be next, and a wildlife management area is under consideration.

Evidence Mounts of Hidden Fracking Hazards

A major report released Thursday exposes a hidden hazard of fracking: the mining of the special sand—known as ‘frac sand,’ for short—that is essential to the practice.

Frac sand mining uses significant volumes of groundwater, contributes to air pollution, and has negative socio-economic impacts, according to “Communities At Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest” (pdf), produced by the the Civil Society Institute’s Boston Action Research project in cooperation with Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA).

Fracking in the US: The story of one man’s oil well

East Texas between Houston and Galveston is a low flat land of cayenne-pepper heat coming off the tepid waters of Galveston Bay. The cries of laughing gulls and great-tailed grackles fill the salty air, and the silhouettes of vultures circle overhead. Donkey-head oil wells and offshore rigs moored opposite shrimp boats in the bay remind me that, despite a scattering of wind turbines and solar panels, the United States still remains firmly anchored in the Petroleum Age.

That may be fortuitous for me, since I’m here to check out an oil well I’ve owned since I was in college. The site lies in a landscape of former horse farms and pear orchards on the Gulf Freeway, which runs between the two cities.

I’ve come to Texas to answer a simple question: What should I do with the mineral rights beneath the well – hang onto them and keep getting my small royalty check each month? Or sell them to one of many wildcat suitors I’ve had in recent months, most of whom want to “frack” the well?

U.S. judge refuses to halt fracking in Nevada

A federal judge has refused to block the release of oil and gas leases in Nevada that critics say will be used for hydraulic fracturing that could harm sage grouse and cause more environmental damage than the Bureau of Land Management admits.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du ruled she has no authority to grant opponents’ request for an emergency order that would prevent the BLM from formally issuing the leases in an area stretching across about 270 square miles of central Nevada.

Wisconsin’s sand mining industry poised for growth

Wisconsin’s burgeoning sand mining industry is poised for more growth, with environmental organizations saying Thursday the controversial practice could expand to two dozen additional counties.

Mines and other sand facilities are located in about 20 counties in western Wisconsin.

Judge: Sovereign exempt from Broomfield fracking moratorium

Sovereign is not subject to Broomfield’s five-year moratorium on fracking, meaning the oil and gas company can move forward with plans to drill, a 17th Judicial District judge ruled on Thursday.

Sovereign sued Broomfield, claiming it should be exempt from Broomfield’s fracking restriction because of an agreement it had in place before the moratorium was approved by voters.

FEMA reverses ‘anti-fracking’ policy affecting NEPA flood victims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has backpedaled on a policy that banned hydraulic fracturing or fracturing beneath land purchased with federal flood buyout money.

In a letter provided by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, FEMA regional administrator MaryAnn Tierney said the department will make an exception for eight flood-stricken properties affected by policy, which was enacted on May 5.

Water scarcity concerns grow from use of fracking

With all the recent news about the use of new technological innovations in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, you’d think that methods have been introduced to use less water for fracking.

But the opposite is the case.

For each new gas well, more than four times as much water, compared to a decade ago, is now being pumped deep beneath the ground, along with a mixture of sand and chemicals, to get gas out of shale formations.

Nation rushes to embrace natural gas and fracking despite risks to environment

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s attitude toward natural-gas “fracking” seems to depend on whether it occurs somewhere that would be politically inconvenient for him.

McAuliffe (D) said recently he’s determined to prevent the controversial drilling method from intruding on the rugged Appalachian beauty of the George Washington National Forest, where opposition has been strong.

Dubious data: DEP’s flawed records stir mistrust on drilling

Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale using the method known as fracking has been arguably both the greatest economic opportunity for Pennsylvania in recent years and its residents’ biggest concern.

The Post-Gazette believes drilling can bring great benefits if it is properly regulated to protect the environment. To establish public trust in this process, the Corbett administration must inspect drill sites competently and disseminate the information efficiently. That challenge is being met only partly.

Judge rejects move to halt fracking in Nevada

A federal judge has refused to block the release of oil and gas leases in Nevada that critics say will be used for hydraulic fracturing that could harm sage grouse and cause more environmental damage than the Bureau of Land Management admits.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du ruled she has no authority to grant opponents’ request for an emergency order that would prevent the BLM from formally issuing the leases in an area stretching across about 270 square miles of central Nevada.

Thai-Japanese duo angling for another Marcellus ethane cracker

A partnership between Thailand’s largest chemical company and a Japanese trading and investment house is shopping the region for an ethane cracker site.

Allenport’s Mon River Industrial Park in Washington County is one of three locations being evaluated by the group, which joins Bangkok-based PTT Global Chemical and Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp.

Oil company getting out of fracking … for now

An oil and gas company with a presence on the west coast of Newfoundland says it will finalize its exploration plans this fall.

But David Murray, president and CEO of Black Spruce Exploration, said those plans will not include hydraulic fracturing, which is the controversial process of pumping fluid into a well to create enough pressure to crack, or fracture, the rock layer.

With input period ending, fracking rule-makers will sift through tens of thousands of comments

A member of the North Carolina commission that’s developing fracking regulations says the panel has received dozens of public comments that have caused them “to really go back and do our homework,” but thousands of others offer unusable input such as: “Don’t Frack NC.”

The Mining and Energy Commission expects to receive 50,000 comments by Tuesday when the period for public input ends, though that could be exceeded if there’s a late surge, said commission member James Womack. Hundreds of comments were delivered at four public meetings around the state marked by chanting and singing by people who fear toxic chemicals could escape the wells.

Gas drillers draw less water, but concerns linger

The gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania is recycling more and more water and one river basin commission now reports drillers there are drawing less freshwater than in the past.

Water use by the natural gas industry in the Susquehanna River Basin peaked at about 3.8 billion gallons in 2011 and that figure declined to about 3.1 billion gallons in 2013, Andrew J. Gavin, deputy executive director of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, told the Associated Press.

Parents: Colorado Teacher Censored Views On Fracking For Middle School Students

Student protestors in Jefferson County (JeffCo), Colorado have walked out of classes this past week, claiming that a reform-minded school board member’s proposal to review the new A.P. U.S. History curriculum (APUSH) intended to censor their views. Last year, however, parents accused a teacher at a JeffCo middle school of presenting only one side of the story on fracking.

Investing in the Hardest Working Body of Water in the World

Virtually everyone living in the United States has a vested interest in the viability of our coastal communities—they are home to a growing number of Americans, support our vast and mounting food and energy needs, and contribute millions to our annual economy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bayou Corne sinkhole lawsuit could play out in Texas

Texas Brine wants to make sure the lawsuits accusing the company of causing the Bayou Corne sinkhole, which two years ago swallowed acres of swampland in Assumption Parish, stay in state court in Louisiana.

It’s insurer, Liberty Insurance underwriters Inc., wants the case to be heard in a federal court in Texas.

BHP Billiton, Pemex sign agreement to share deepwater knowledge

Australian oil and mining giant BHP Billiton and Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company, have signed a deal to share knowledge of deep water operations, BHP Billiton announced.

“We have proven we can build projects better and faster than most operators, and our offshore facilities have some of the highest operational uptimes and safety records anywhere in the world,” said Tim Cutt, president of BHP Billiton’s Houston-based petroleum and potash business, in a statement.

North Bay residents up in arms over TransCanada plan to switch crude oil for gas in local pipeline

From his many-windowed fifth-floor office at city hall, Mayor Al McDonald points to the Laurentian escarpment to the north, then to the shimmering blue waters of Trout Lake to the east. Vast Lake Nipissing is visible to the west, though you have to crane your neck to see it. Below are the Victorian buildings and tree-lined streets of the downtown.

McDonald clearly loves showing off the view. But it also pitches him into anxiety.

Willie Nelson, Neil Young play to thousands protesting Keystone XL

Art and Helen Tanderup gazed with amazed smiles at the thousands of cars parked on the stubble of their recently harvested cornfield on Saturday, at the stage set up in their rye field and at the ocean of people standing in front of it.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely amazing this is happening,” said Art just before the start of Harvest the Hope.

Enbridge to introduce steps to boost crude flow to Cushing

Limited crude supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, have prompted pipeline company Enbridge Inc to implement new steps to increase the flow into the storage hub and delivery point for U.S. crude oil futures.

Enbridge will begin implementing a “feeder verification procedure” in October, according to the company’s Sept. 25 letter to customers obtained by Reuters.

Rosneft and Exxon discover Arctic oil

Russian energy giant Rosneft says it has discovered oil with its US project partner Exxon Mobil at a controversial well in the Arctic.

Drilling was completed in record time, it said, but questions remain about how quickly the well can be developed.

Exxon has said it will “wind down” the project following US sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

ExxonMobil suspends cooperation with Rosneft on Arctic oil project

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil is suspending cooperation with Russia’s state-owned company Rosneft on offshore drilling in the Arctic due to sanctions, the daily Kommersant reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.

Rosneft and its head Igor Sechin were among the targets of the sanctions, imposed over Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people.

New Report Out On Oil Train Inspections

There’s a new report out on the inspections of crude oil train cars that have been coming through New York State with increasing frequency.

Authorities say additional inspections of crude oil tank cars and railroad tracks in New York have found 72 minor defects and one critical defect from a split rail.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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